Skip to main contentAccessibility feedback

Dear visitor: Summer is here, and you may be thinking about a well-deserved vacation, family get-togethers, BBQs with neighborhood friends. More than likely, making a donation to Catholic Answers is not on your radar right now. But this is exactly the time we most need your help. The “summer slowdown” in donations is upon us, but the work of spreading the gospel and explaining and defending the Faith never takes a break. Your gift today will change lives and save souls for Christ this summer! The reward is eternal. Thank you and God bless.

Dear visitor: Summer is here, and you may be thinking about a well-deserved vacation, family get-togethers, BBQs with neighborhood friends. More than likely, making a donation to Catholic Answers is not on your radar right now. But this is exactly the time we most need your help. The “summer slowdown” in donations is upon us, but the work of spreading the gospel and explaining and defending the Faith never takes a break. Your gift today will change lives and save souls for Christ this summer! The reward is eternal. Thank you and God bless.


Name applied to the Greeks in Italy who observe the Byzantine Rite

Click to enlarge

Italo-Greeks, the name applied to the Greeks in Italy who observe the Byzantine Rite. They embrace three classes: (I) the ecclesiastical communities which have followed the Greek Rite since the Byzantine period; (2) the Greek colonies in the various maritime cities and at Rome; (3) the descendants of the Greeks and Albanians who emigrated en masse into Southern Italy after the Turkish occupation of the Balkans, and established towns, or at least formed powerful groups by themselves; they long maintained their native language and customs, and even now observe the Greek Rite, though in other respects they have been absorbed in the Italian population.

(I) As to the first class, it is difficult to say whether the Greek Rite was followed in any diocese of Southern Italy or Sicily before the eighth century. But the gradual hellenization of those regions, as well as the founding of numerous Greek monasteries, must have affected liturgical life. The spread of Greek monasticism in Italy received a strong impulse from the Saracenic invasion of Palestine and Egypt, and later from the Iconoclastic persecutions. The monks naturally retained their rite, and as the bishops were not infrequently chosen from their number, the diocesan liturgy, under favorable conditions, could easily be changed, especially since the Lombard occupation of the inland regions of Southern Italy cut off the Greeks in the South from communication with the Latin Church, whose intellectual culture, moreover, was far inferior to that of Byzantium. When, in 726, Leo the Isaurian, by a stroke of his pen, withdrew Southern Italy from the patriarchal jurisdiction of Rome and gave it to the Patriarch of Constantinople, the process of hellenization became more rapid; it received a further impulse when, on account of the Saracenic occupation of Sicily, many Greeks and hellenized Sicilians repaired to Calabria and Apulia. Still it was not rapid enough to suit the Byzantine emperors, who feared lest those regions should again fall under the influence of the Western Empire, like the Duchy of Rome and the Exarchate of Ravenna. Finally, after the Saxon emperors had made a formidable attempt to drive the Greeks from the peninsula, Emperor Nicephorus Phocas and the Patriarch Polyeuctos made it obligatory on the bishops, in 968, to adopt the Greek Rite. This order aroused lively opposition in some quarters, as at Bari, under Bishop Giovanni. Nor was it executed in other places immediately and universally. Cassano and Taranto, for instance, are said to have always maintained the Latin Rite. At Trani, in 983, Bishop Rodostamo was allowed to retain the Latin Rite, as a reward for aiding in the surrender of the city to the Greeks. About the middle of the eleventh century, however, Bishop Giovanni II joined the schism of Michael Caerularius. In every diocese there were always some churches which never forsook the Latin Rite; on the other hand, long after the restoration of that rite, there remained Greek churches with native Greek clergy.

The restoration of the Latin Rite began with the Norman conquest in the eleventh century, especially in the first period of the conquest, when Norman ecclesiastics were appointed bishops. Another potent factor was the reform of Gregory VII, who in his efforts to repress marriage among the Latin clergy found no small obstacle in the example of the Greek priests. However, he and his successors recognized the Greek Rite and discipline wherever it was in legitimate possession. Moreover, the Latin bishops ordained the Greek as well as the Latin clergy. In the course of time the Norman princes gained the affection of their Greek subjects by respecting their rite, which had a strong support in the numerous Basilian monasteries (in the fifteenth century there were still seven of them in the Archdiocese of Rossano alone). The latinization of the dioceses was complete in the sixteenth century. Among those which held out longest for the Greek Rite were Acerenza (and perhaps Gravina), 1302; Gerace, 1467; Oppido, 1472 (when it was temporarily united to Gerace); Rossano, 1460; Gallipoli, 1513; Bova (to the time of Gregory XIII, etc. But even after that time many Greek priests remained in some dioceses. In that of Otranto, in 1583, there were still two hundred Greek priests, nearly all native. At Reggio, Calabria, Count Ruggiero in 1092 had given the Greeks the church of S. Maria della Cattolica, whose clergy had a protopapa, exempt from the jurisdiction of the bishop; this was the case until 1611. In 1695 there were in the same dioceses fifty-nine Greek priests; after thirty years there was only one. Rossano still had a Greek clergy in the seventeenth century. The few native Greek priests were afterwards absorbed in the tide of immigration (see below). Of the Basilian monasteries the only one left is that of Grottaferrata, near Rome. In Sicily the latinization was, for two reasons, accomplished more easily and radically. First, during the rule of the Saracens most of the dioceses were left without bishops, so that the installation of Latin bishops encountered no difficulty; secondly, the Normans had come as liberators, and not as conquerors.

(2) Important Greek colonies, founded chiefly for commercial reasons, were located at Venice, Ancona (where they obtained from Clement VII and Paul III the church of S. Anna, which they lost in 1833, having been declared schismatical in 1797). Bari, Lecce (where, even in the nineteenth century, in the church of S. Nicola, Divine worship was carried on in the Greek tongue, though in the Latin Rite), Naples (where they have the church of SS. Pietro e Paolo, erected in 1526 by Tommaso Paleologo Assagni), Leghorn (where they have the church of the Annunziata, 1607).

In Rome, where Greek was the official language of the Church until the third century, there was always a large colony observing the Greek Rite. From the end of the sixth century until the ninth and tenth there were several Greek monasteries, among which were Cella Nova, near S. Saba; S. Erasmo; S. Silvestro in Capite; the monastery next to S. Maria Antiqua at the foot of the Palatine. Like other nations, the Greeks before the year 1000 had their own schola at Rome. It was near the church of S. Maria in Cosmedin. Even in the pontifical liturgy—at least on some occasions—a few of the chanted passages were in Greek; the custom of singing the Epistle and Gospel in both Latin and Greek dates from that period (Gaisser, “Brani greci nella liturgia latina” in “Rassegna Gregoriana”, 1902, nos. 7, 8, 9). At present (1909) there are in Rome two Greek Catholic churches: S. Atanasio, belonging to the Greek College, and S. Maria in Domnica al Celio, belonging to the Basilian monks of the Congregation of Choueir.

(3) Besides the first large emigration of Albanians, which took place between 1467 and 1470, after the death of the celebrated Scanderbeg (when his daughter, who had become the Princess of Bisignano, invited her countrymen to the Kingdom of Naples), there were two others, one under Sultan Selim II (1566-1574), directed to the ports along the Adriatic and to Leghorn; the other about 1740. In the course of time, owing to assimilation with the surrounding population, the number of these Italo-Greeks diminished, and not a few of their villages became entirely Latin. The following is a list of towns with an Albanian population. In Calabria and Basilicata: Castroregio, Farneto, S. Paolo, S. Costantino, Plataci, Civita Percile, Frassineto, S. Basilio, Fermo, Lungro, Acquaformosa (Cassano Ionico), Marri, S. Benedetto d’Ullano, S. Sofia di Epiro (Diocese of S. Marco and Bisignano), Macchia, S. Demetrio Corone, S. Cosmo, S. Giorgio Albanese, Vaccariso Albanese (Diocese of Rossano); a total of 37,000 souls and about fifty priests. Five other districts in the same region are completely latinized. In Sicily, Italo-Greeks are found at Piana dei Greci, Palazzo Adriano, Contessa Entellina (Diocese of Monreale), Mezzofuso, Palermo (Diocese of Palermo), and Messina, where in the church of S. Maria del Graffeo the Latin Rite is observed in the Greek tongue; a total of about 22,000 souls and forty priests. Other Italo-Greek colonies were at Villabadessa (Diocese of Atri and Penne); Pianiano, near Acquapendente; and Cargese, in Corsica.

To educate the clergy of these Greeks Gregory XIII founded in 1577 at Rome the Greek College of S. Atanasio, which served also for the Greek Catholics of the East and for the Ruthenians, until a special college was instituted for the latter purpose by Leo XIII. Among the alumni of S. Atanasio was the celebrated Leo Allatius. Another Greek ecclesiastical college was founded at Palermo in 1715 by P. Giorgio Guzzetta, founder of an oratory of St. Philip Neri among the Greek clergy. At Fermo the seminary of SS. Pietro e Paolo existed from 1663, erected by the Propaganda to supply priests for Albania, It was suppressed in 1746. Finally Clement XII, in 1736, founded the Corsini College in the ancient Abbey of S. Benedetto d’Ullano, whence it was transferred in 1794 to S. Demetrio Corone, in the ancient Basilian monastery of S. Adriano. Since 1849, however, and especially since 1860, this college has lost its ecclesiastical character and is now secularized.

Ecclesiastical Status.—The Italo-Greeks are subject to the jurisdiction of the diocesan bishops; several times, but in vain, they have sought exemption. However, the popes have long wished them to have a titular archbishop, resident in Rome, for the ordination of their priests, and to lend splendor to Divine service. The first of these was Gabriele, titular Archbishop of Mitylene. When Clement XII established the Corsini College, he placed it in charge of a resident bishop or archbishop of the Greek Rite. At present this episcopus ordinans for the Greeks of Calabria resides at Naples. In 1784 the Greeks of Sicily obtained from Pius VI an episcopus ordinans, resident at Piana dei Greci. Naturally, the position of a people whose rite and discipline differed in many points from those of the surrounding population, required special legislation. Benedict XIV, in the Bull “Etsi pastoralis” (1742), collected, coordinated, and completed the various enactments of his predecessors, and this Bull is still the law. The Holy See has always endeavored to respect the rite of the Italo-Greeks; on the other hand, it was only proper to maintain the position of the Latin Rite. No member of the clergy may pass from the Greek to the Latin Rite without the consent of the pope; and no layman without the permission of the bishop. The offspring of mixed marriages belong to the Latin Rite. A Greek wife may pass to the Latin Rite, but not a Latin husband to the Greek Rite. Much less would a Latin be allowed to become a priest of the Greek Rite, thus evading the law of celibacy. As regards the Eucharist, any promiscuity of Greeks and Latins is forbidden, except in case of grave necessity, e.g. if in a given locality there should be no Greek church. Where custom has abolished communion under both kinds, a contrary usage must not be introduced.


Did you like this content? Please help keep us ad-free
Enjoying this content?  Please support our mission!

Copyright © 1996-2024 Catholic Answers